Limerick Rain. Spitting Rain. Sideways Rain.

In an extract from his new book Surviving Ireland, Colm Tobin takes us through the many shades of Irish rain

In Limerick, they don’t have dry spells, instead they say ‘the rain is waiting’

In Limerick, they don’t have dry spells, instead they say ‘the rain is waiting’


In Ireland, no subject occupies our day-to-day conversation like the weather. It is a constant wellspring of drama. Nothing stays the same for long. Dramatic winds can pick up on the calmest of afternoons. Cold, rain-soaked mornings suddenly turn hot and humid. Scorching summer days can veer off and turn wet and nasty. The truth is, in a country where the folk memory of civil war lingers in our subconscious, where the collective wounds from Saipan still lie open and exposed, it is vital to have something non-controversial to blather on about. The weather does exactly that job. So, to prepare you for life in Ireland, let’s look at some of the main categories of Irish weather, beginning with the most common of them all – the rain.

The Rain

If the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, then the rain in Ireland falls mainly on . . . well, the Irish. Ireland is chiefly famous the world over for two things – being green and being wet. It’s slightly unfair. The truth is, eastern counties only experience about 150 wet days per year. That’s a lot of dry days in between. Admittedly, for some western areas this figure shoots up to 225 wet days. On rare sunny days in Castlebar, it is not uncommon to see pale and shocked locals staring skywards at the sun and applauding. We all know that rain can be disastrous. It can soak into you and sit around on the skin, inviting in all sorts of plagues and illnesses. It can mockingly destroy the impromptu plans of barbecue organizers. It laughs in the face of race meetings, making the going ‘soft-heavy in places’. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than when the going is soft-heavy in places for a horse in a hurry.

We have numerous adjectives with which to describe it – lashing, pissing, bucketing . . . if the Inuits have fifty words for snow, the Irish have about a hundred variations of ‘Bollocks, I’m after getting soaked’. So, in order to keep you as safe and dry as possible, here’s a small compendium of the various categories of rain to watch out for.

Stage 1: ’Tis a Grand Soft Day, Thank God

Gorgeously atmospheric, soft day rain is best experienced around the mountainous, coastal fringes of the west of Ireland. A subtle cross between mist and drizzle, soft day rain is a mysterious and subtle form of precipitation. For the first ten minutes of contact, it appears benevolent and feels like it is having no great impact. You might even chance going out without a coat. It’s refreshing, almost. Unfortunately, before you know it, you’ll be wetter than a film with Hugh Grant in it. We all know the soggy horror of being caught outside on a dank, miserable, wet, muggy, damp, slippery, moist, misty, soaking, drizzly, sloppy fucker of a day.

Wetness: Low at first, very high eventually

Stage 2: Spitting

Spitting rain is the small nagging child of precipitation. Although it won’t wet you entirely, spitting rain has evolved cunning ways of getting at you – it tends to creep along the forehead and enter the eyeballs at odd angles. It splashes up from the ground and attacks the sock and ankle area with a great and unexpected tenacity. It can mysteriously appear on the underside of umbrellas even though the top is bone dry. It can be a complete nightmare for drivers trying to decide on an appropriate wiper setting. Note that it’s pronounced ‘shpitting’.

Wetness: Fair to middlin’

Stage 3: Regular Rain

Regular Irish rain is the most straightforward example of precipitation. It truly is the working class of the water cycle. Visible to the naked eye, honest in the manner in which it descends from the sky, unpretentious to a fault . . . regular rain is sound. Of course, like any rain, it can soak you to the skin if unprepared, but you were probably asking for it.

Wetness: Light if well prepared; severe if you act the spanner

Stage 4: Lashing

When it’s lashing, it’s no laughing matter. It doesn’t just rain cats and dogs. Cows, zebras, stoats and sloths have often been observed. When it’s lashing, you may stay indoors. It’s true that lashing rain can be a wonderful thing, e.g. when it’s beating off the window and you’re snuggled up by the stove with a book like you’re in an ad for Dulux Weathershield. But not if you’re outside. I’ve seen grown men sitting in the middle of the street, defeated by lashing rain; puddles forming around their shivering bodies, praying that someone might come along and shoot them in the face.

Wetness: Severe

Stage 5: Bucketing Down

Bucketing rain can elicit startled observations in open-plan offices. ‘Jesus, it’s fucking biblical!’ You know it’s serious when Irish people begin to openly express concern about rainfall. Going out in biblical rain is not advisable and can lead to unfortunate outcomes, e.g. death. However, one of the wonderful side effects of bucketing-down rain is a little-known phenomenon called rain euphoria. Rain euphoria occurs when you get so completely and utterly soaked that you begin to mysteriously enjoy the experience. People with rain euphoria can be seen skipping down streets, lepping into water fountains, swinging off lamp posts and ripping their clothes off, all the while laughing maniacally into the clouds.

Wetness: So wet it’s funny

Stage 6: Limerick Rain

Very little is known by the wider population about Limerick rain but it is one of the meteorological wonders of the world. Sure, typhoons, hurricanes and tsunamis grab the headlines for their dramatic and destructive impact – huge physical events that rip through cities in front of your eyes. Limerick rain, by contrast, causes its destruction over a longer period and in a much more insidious, parasitic manner. In Limerick, they don’t have dry spells, instead they say ‘the rain is waiting’. Limerick rain is unique in that, on average, it falls for up to 378 days per year. Not only that, but it can defy physics and pass through barriers. It’s not uncommon, for example, to be lying in bed in Annacotty and the rain mysteriously begins cascading from the ceiling. In fact, Limerick is the only place in the world where it is known to rain regularly indoors. There is nothing unusual about a family gathered around the TV on a Saturday evening watching The X Factor under an umbrella. It doesn’t end there, however. Limerick rain has a horrifying, almost supernatural intelligence. It seeps through gable walls like the magician David Copperfield, creeps up into crevices, defying gravity and making a mockery of modern waterproofing technology. It laughs in the face of oilskins. When Limerick rain falls on your head, it doesn’t stop at the skin. It slowly soaks into the brain, starting at the stem, seeping up through the cerebellum, spreading around both hemispheres, riddling the frontal lobe, where it sets about poisoning your very thoughts. It forms new neural networks that run like gutters in your thinking.

You can see the effects of Limerick rain on the streets – people shouting ‘Shitfuckbollocks!’ for no apparent reason, old women trying to shift the statue of Paul O’Connell, crows singing themselves into electricity pylons just to end the unrelenting wetness. Limerick rain destroys careers and breaks up marriages. It causes untold anguish before flowing out of the sockets of your eyes and the orifices of your ears, dragging with it any store of happiness you had built up in your childhood. In all honesty, Limerick rain is more like Ebola than a meteorological event. But at least it’s not as bad as sideways rain.

Wetness: Not measurable using current instrumentation

Stage 7: Sideways Rain

Sideways rain combines two of the worst things about living in Ireland. The wind and the rain. It is truly an elemental clusterfuck. Sideways rain usually sweeps across your torso like a samurai sword, ripping into your guts and shearing the very skin from your cheeks. Sideways rain is almost impossible for a person to fend off. Although Limerick rain can invade your consciousness, you have some hope of escape (e.g. leaving Limerick). Sideways rain, on the other hand, attacks you in terrifying waves. If you are upended from the rear by sideways rain, it will wait for you to get to your feet before launching another full-frontal attack, knocking you on your arse again. If you attempt to get away, the wind and the rain will conspire to roll you around in mid-air, like a crocodile killing a pig. You really haven’t a hope. The only appropriate response to sideways rain is to lie down and die, leaving all your worldly possessions to the rain.

Wetness: Catastrophic

Surviving Ireland by Colm Tobin is published by Transworld Ireland and is out now

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